Things we love: Those layabout woodchucks
About this series: While many people love nature, different people love different aspects of it. One may have a soft spot for flowers, while another gravitates toward a particular animal. And yet for others, it's all about the scenery. "Things We Love" explores those jaw-dropping parts of nature that one person finds particularly special. In this edition, Glenn Knoblock, public information specialist, tells us why he loves woodchucks.
In my excursions through the forest preserves looking for animals to photograph, each species I encounter brings a different reaction from me. Most people can relate to being up close to a snake and being a little tense, encountering a deer or rabbit and trying to be calm and slow in your movements so as not to spook them, triggering their flight response, or filled with awe at the majesty of a soaring eagle. But there is one creature I love, one that always makes me smile when I come across it — the woodchuck, also known as a groundhog and, in some parts of the country, a whistle pig (my favorite name for them).
Woodchucks are related to squirrels. They’re the largest by weight of the ground squirrels, which also include chipmunks and, of course, 13-lined ground squirrels. While squirrels and chipmunks store food to get through winter, woodchucks are one of the few true winter hibernators in our area. Therefore, they spend the other three seasons eating a lot of vegetation to gain enough weight to get through the cold winter months.
I usually come across them in the prairie, basking in the sun right outside their burrows. That’s when I smile, watching a fat, well-fed groundhog sitting up on its back legs enjoying the summer morning.
There’s no danger of being bit like from a snake, so there’s no tension, they’re not skittish like a deer, and they’re not awe-inspiring like a soaring raptor. They’re more like me on vacation: They eat as much as they can, sleep all night, take an afternoon nap, and relish basking in the morning sunlight. That always makes me smile, and I love them for it.